Blue crabs in downtown Dover and salty water nears Poughkeepsie
The drought of 1999 is causing more than frustration for farmers and homeowners in the eastern half of the country. Without fresh water to rinse out rivers and streams, salt water is creeping further up river in many areas. And that salt water is bringing with it a variety of new concerns for local resource managers.
USGS scientists who have been tracking this "saltwater encroachment" phenomenon are finding the increases in salinity are creating a host of unusual environmental issues. The data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey is being used by local decision-makers to inform and protect citizens.
"We've spotted crabs in the St. Jones River near our monitoring station in downtown Dover, Delaware," said USGS hydrologist Dan Soeder. "Crabs only like salt water, so you know that has to be salty water."
On another tidal stream in central Delaware, one farmer couldn't understand why corn, irrigated with what is usually fresh water from that stream, was wilting. Soeder said the USGS found salt content has been as high as 5,000 parts per million - one half that of ocean water.
"He had to stop using that water on his fields," Soeder said. "You don't want to salt your corn before you cook it."
Meanwhile, on the Hudson River, USGS scientists there have been tracking a different kind of salt problem - a slowly creeping salt front which is threatening water supplies in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a city of about 30,000 located 75 miles north of New York City.
"The salt front is about five miles downstream of the water intakes for the Poughkeepsie water supply," said USGS hydrologist Ward Freeman. "Right now, it's standing still and water which is being pumped into the Hudson from area reservoirs is keeping the salt front at bay."